Eternally spring

Let's flourish all we want.

If there is something I wish I had more time for, it is to be able to do some more spring cleaning. It may not sound cool and appealing to many, but it is probably one of the most psychologically rewarding things one can routinely do to keep one's sanity.

I did some of this last October, leading up to my and the children's semestral break. And since I am moving houses in mid-January, I will have to find time to do it again soon -- and in greater doses.

First, the clothes. Two months ago I got myself one of those big, dark brown closets with several divisions. I gave my old closet to my 17-year-old daughter Bea, who gave her old closet to 11-year-old Sophie, who moved her things out of the closet she had been sharing with 9-year-old Elmo.

Along with the transfers came the “evaluation” of our present clothes. I was able to remove those which I did not need or want anymore and found better use for them. By better use I mean offering rights of refusal first to Bea, then Sophie, then my aunt who stays with us during weekdays, then our helper Cathy. Whatever is left of this, as long as it remains in good condition, went to The Sack, which was on standby for relief in the event of disasters.

I also finally decided to tackle the five tall baskets of clutter that had been lying on the very short corridor upstairs. The contents belonged to me and to the kids, and mostly consisted of paper products. The stuff in the baskets were deemed not worthy to be in our respective tables or shelves. Plodding through the contents, I found out that about half of it belonged to the trash.

The exercise was instructive. I learned:

How to compartmentalize

I like drawers and labels and putting things under categories. For this purpose, there are several groups to which the baskets' contents are directed: "Trash". "Book shelves". "Old textbooks for donation". "Old test papers". "Things to return to individual desks". "Grooming". "Electrical and household". "For cleaning/washing". These groups remind me that everything has its place and there is a place for everything.

How to focus.

It is easy to get distracted when you see an old manuscript, for instance, or stumble into a pre-teener’s diary, or old photos. You don't have this luxury. I force myself to be mechanical so that I finish everything within the allotted time. Don't try to do everything at once, as well, because then it is easy for your mind to wander. Setting aside an hour or two every other day – or every weekend if you're really swamped with other things – will yield better results. So long as you stick with the plan, of course.

How to let go.

Most of the time, the decision to consign something to the trash is not easy and automatic. For instance, you think you might want to keep a printout of the lyrics of a favorite song, or a nice bottle of perfume that an old friend gave you. But then you remind yourself that these days, there are entire Web sites devoted to supplying the lyrics of practically any song. There are those who have need for used paper all the time. And "perfume" refers to the content, not the container. Nobody wants to be a hoarder.

How to separate the important from the superfluous.

Spring cleaning also makes you do a double-take. What is important to you? Should you hang on to the souvenir program of some event you’ve been invited to? Probably not – especially since you have already written about it and have likely recorded the important details. What about the flats you bought in some European city, that which you have had repaired three, maybe four times? One hundred percent sentimental value, zero functionality. What about the tiny origami dinosaurs Elmo made using a post-it? Priceless. There’s a special envelope for that.

How to start and maintain a good habit.

Nothing compares to the feeling one gets after clearing out and de-cluttering. You feel light and sweet and optimistic. There is a feeling of being in control – why, you have just mastered your objects, fixed them as you saw fit. Some people are so unfortunate that they are controlled by their possessions.

There is, however, a tinge of worry. Clutter does build up. Can you maintain the order? Or are you going to slip into disarray again sometime soon? Worse, what if the children you are trying to teach by good example just won’t commit? I think the best way to prevent this is to remember how good it feels to have some sense of order. Because your mind is clear, you are capable of doing bigger things, better things.

The kids and I are looking forward to moving into a new home where everybody will enjoy a little more personal space. Because of this, I feel even more ready for the year ahead. It won't be easy. Sending two children to college will be hard. Growing pains will get more painful. There will be challenges at work and in school. Discontent in society will remain. Disaster will descend upon one region or another. But happiness is knowing that you will be all right despite all imperfections. And we will be.

There's only "wet" and "dry" in the Philippines but it is quite easy to imagine how the term “spring cleaning” came to be. Spring brings a nice feeling. The past is over and done with. It’s a fresh start, and we can flourish all we want.

Happy New Year to all.